fourhman.com weblog feature: Our Trip to Korea / 7 entries
|Our Trip to Korea|
This is the story of our trip to Korea from June 28 to July 2, 2005. We travelled to Seoul to be united with our son Clark, who was born March 2. We began the adoption process in April 2004 and saw our first picture of Clark in May 2005. We had been anticipating our "travel call" sometime in August, so when the phone rang in June we were completely surprised. In a whirlwind of events, we went from a loving couple to a loving family. This is the weblog of our trip, posted to fourhman.com every day from our hotel in Seoul.
Click here for our complete photo album of the trip.
entry index for Our Trip to Korea
A different Origin|
Friday / 06.24.05 / 10:51PM / Joe
Today's unbelievable news: we got Clark's travel call today, meaning he is ready to come home!
Now, this is about a month ahead of when we expected to get the call. Which is about a month ahead of when parents are told to expect the call. So the whole system must have accelerated like crazy lately for us to get Clark before he turns four months old.
So we're a little unprepared. The nursery is more or less fine; we finished his room last weekend. The work world is another story. Both of us figured we'd have another month to set up contingencies and training for our subs... and now we're both bailing out on FMLA with nary a meeting. As happy as we'll be bonding with our new baby, I don't imagine our offices will be as contented.
Beyond the work issue, we get to scramble to make travel arrangements, housesitting and set up for a bare minimum baby arrival. For example, we have no baby food or formula. Duh-whoops! But we have this weekend to devote to the last minute prep work, so I'm not too worried about bringing Clark home to a house with only Tang and Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper to drink.
The adventure begins Monday with our flight to Korea, with brief stopovers in Detroit and Tokyo. It will be a long flight, so hopefully we won't hit any of those luddite flight attendants who get nasty about Game Boys and the like. I'm picking up Kirby Canvas Curse tomorrow just for the occasion.
We'll be in the Land of Morning Calm for five days, back in the US next Saturday. We might have 'net access while we're there. If so, I hope to spit up some weblog updates live from Seoul. We'll be taking pictures, naturally, but look for those once we get back (unless we have really nice web access and an image editor.)
If you've been keeping track, you'll note this trip directly conflicts with our annual migration to Columbus for Origins. Well. It is a harsh irony that the travel call arrived right alongside our one single planned vacation for the year (for the last five years, really.) But I think it's obvious which trip we'd rather take.
We are wildly excited. The end of our adoption journey is coming, and sooner than we ever would have anticipated. I feel such a massive, soothing relief right now - even in the face of one of the longest plane flights available and the unknowable challenges to come. It's just so nice to know that we made this happen, and that it is almost over.
Live from Seoul...|
Wednesday / 06.29.05 / 07:30AM / Joe
Total long distance weblog coming at you from a hotel PC in Seoul.
Today is day three of our trip, or day two depending on your time zone, I suppose. We're already acclimated to Korea time, which was neatly accomplished by not sleeping much on the flight, then getting a massive energy boost when the third plane flight for the night was cancelled. Back on EDT, I'd guess we were up for a day and a half total.
Flight 1: Baltimore to Detroit. Detroit must be the airline's hub world, because it seems such an unlikely stopoff point otherwise. While waiting, I played some 2P DS stuff with a young lad on his way to his grandparents'. He saw me with the DS out (playing Kirby) and approached me with a "excuse me, want to play two player?" We did some Mario64, Yoshi Touch N Go, and even the Ping-Pong dealie in WarioWare Touched. We talked about trying it on the plane - meeting up in PictoChat - but we bailed when the flight crew banned usage of electronic devices that transmit. No one said anything to me about playing it, so I doubt they would have known the difference between single-player action and secret two man multiplayer anyway. Unless there's a button in the cockpit that senses local propriatary wireless networks sprouting up back in coach class.
Flight 2: We had no time at all to hang around Detroit; we had to get right into the line for boarding. Of course, after we boarded, a mega-group of high school students showed up late... after the airline had already given up on them and started giving their seats away. So we had a pretty sizable delay (an hour?) while they sorted all that out. Also, the runway was melting in the heat and it took more time for that to be fixed. I don't know how they did it... probably just threw some 2x4s over the puddle. So we were pretty concerned about missing the Tokyo-Seoul flight.
Of course, on a 12 hour flight you need to occupy your mind with more items than worrying about landing time. We nabbed the seats right in front of the front-projection movie screen, which is not as cool as it sounds. It was out of focus. The extra legroom was nice, however. I didn't watch the movies anyway. Listen to this: feature 1 was Coach Carter, then Racing Stripes, then The Wedding Date. What kind of second-run house crap is that? I alternated between an hour on GBA or DS, then a half hour off, battery power being a concern. Rhon watched the first two movies, then slept through the third. I was actually forced to watch the third because I was all played out by then... so I guess 10 hours must be my Game Boy limit. Debra Messing looked like she had to gain weight for the role. Dermot Mulroaney was weird; I never really believed in the emotional shift he supposedly goes through mid-film.
So far, every flight has personally served Rhonda's vegetarian meal 20 minutes before anybody else gets food... and they did not have me down for similar. I complained the first time (and received somebody else's special order veg supper... Elizabeth Helmig, sorry about that, but I ate it anyway!) but I gave up for the mid-flight snack and breakfast meals. Not really hungry anyway, surprisingly.
As we inched closer to Tokyo, it looked like we would be in a major hustle to make the Seoul connection... which I considered a bummer because I wanted some time to dope around the Tokyo airport and shop. I mean, Tokyo. Three out of five big Joe obsessions were born in Japan, with new ones arriving almost monthly.
We joined the throng at the Seoul flight and met up with another couple on their way to pick up a child with our agency. (Not a surprise; Rhonda had talked to them on the agency message boards.) But while we were exchanging stories and photos, the announcement came that our flight was unfortunately cancelled. Rescheduled for 7am the next day. So, wow, a night in Tokyo!
Of course, the airline handles everything by that point, herding 200+ people through the gates and forms and buses and to the designated hotel. So, in effect, I get the extra time in Tokyo that I wanted... at no cost and with almost no thought invested to it! Rhon was less interested in the stopover, simply because we're not there and we should be. Of course, we're still inside the Narita Airport district, not in awesome otaku-friendly Akihabara or anything like that... but I still enjoyed being there. Toilet: heated seat, plus bidet mode. Television: fascinating. And get this, the hotel seemed to be run by ANA (Japanese airline), which is the very airline that has the Pokemon brand as an official sponsor (painted planes and all that) so the gift shop had a healthy Pokemon section! Bought Clark a Pikachu puppet. Almost forgot: our luggage was already loaded on the cancelled flight, so our night in Tokyo was entirely based on our carryon... no change of clothes. We slept in those awesome Japanese-style robes that sort of look like a kimono.
After being ferried back to Narita, we were sheeped onto the Seoul flight. It was intended to depart at 7am but didn't actually move until 7:45. And, I didn't mention this yet, but our first scheduled meeting with Clark was for 1:30pm. You have to meet several times before you get custody. We figured - and we were accurate - that we would get in to Seoul in plenty of time to make the 1:30 appointment.
Something else I did not mention... we never really finalized our hotel in Korea. We tried to make reservations online, but it was so last minute we were over the Pacific before we could get any confirmation. So we flew into Seoul not really knowing if we had lodging or not, plus we were already a day off from our arrival date anyway! Crazy.
But you know, it's a hotel, and Seoul is a modern city eager for tourists. So we took a bus to our theoretical hotel anyway and hoped for the best. We checked in, and I don't think they had our online reservation at all, but it didn't matter. Even after the delay and everything, we made it to our hotel room with an hour and a half to get ready for our meeting. Also note: our hotel is a ten minute walk down the same street as the agency, so it's an easy, fun walk to get there. We freshened up and went to meet our son.
I'll pick that up next entry. Suffice to say, he is beautiful and wonderful and we can't wait for our second meeting.
Where was I...|
Wednesday / 06.29.05 / 06:09PM / Joe
So. Our son.
The agency's office is right along a busy main Seoul street, and it was teeming with people when we arrived. Before we arrived, I was envisioning a white hospital-like building, but it felt more like a reconditioned high school. Lots of little side rooms and warm colors. It is super humid in Seoul right now - Monsoon season! - and the lobby was insanely hot. There were other families also meeting/picking up their children, from all over the world... some right there in the lobby. Plus nurses bustling about, a reunion tour group hugging and laughing. And then us just sort of standing and not knowing who to talk to. One of the nurses said "baby meeting?" and ushered us up the staircase to meet the social worker, Mrs. Lee, our son, and our son's foster mother.
Of course it was emotional. Rhonda was handed Clark right away and the two of us just held him and cried. We've been at this for so long... and yet with the surprise call last Friday, it still didn't seem real until that moment. We all talked (Mrs. Lee translating for the foster moster, who spoke no English) and laughed. I took pictures. The foster mother told us about his feeding times, how he sleeps, how he plays. She showed us how to hold him... he was tired and on the cranky side, but he did fall asleep in Rhonda's arms. That's a comfort. They left us alone in the room for a little bit as they arranged a visit with the doctor downstairs.
At one point, I played my big card: reciting "thank you for loving our baby" in Korean. (Thanks, Linda!) It sounds like "oo-dee ah-gi sarong heh jwuh suh kamsa hamnida" and I have been practicing for days. I think I surprised both of them quite a bit, judging from their reaction! In a situation like this, we couldn't thank the foster mother enough, but one sentence (probably full of lousy intonation and off-kilter consonent sounds) was all I could manage!
That last bit (the "kamsa hamnida") means "thank you," so we've been saying that all the time out here. I can also say "hello" (annyong haseyo) so I get to initiate all the conversations. Of course we had not prepared for a stay in Tokyo, but I reached into my pop culture memory and used "hello" and "thank you" for our Japanese hosts as well. Konnichiwa and domo arigato.
The foster mother took him into the doctor, happily gesturing for us to follow. The doctor, like Mrs. Lee, spoke English, and she did a quick checkup with the foster mother's help, occasionally telling us the results. Motor control, stool check, the usual baby stuff. Since the babies aren't allowed to travel out of the country if they are ill, it was nice to get a clean bill of health from the doc.
Then we hung out in another sideroom, while a dozen more moms and babies milled about in the lobby. Rhonda figures it must be baby check-up time, and we just happened to be their during a slew of end-of-month appointments. We wished we could have found out the names of all the babies there, to see if any of them are the future children of friends we've made in adoption circles that we know are waiting for the call.
At this point, Mrs. Lee was off working somewhere in the office, so we were along with Clark and the foster mom... most of our communication was baby stuff. Clark got a bottle, the three of us played with him. He has recently discovered his fists, so there was a lot of baby boxing. It was a complete treat to hear the foster mother interact with him in Korean, using the Korean equivalent of peek-a-boo (kah-koon!) and humming a traditional Korean lullaby. Plus, she repeatedly pointed to us and said "ohma" (Mom) and "appa" (Dad) while she was playing with Clark. Sigh!
They needed to catch a bus home, so Mrs. Lee returned, went over the plans for Friday, and we said goodbye. Not literally, I have not yet learned "goodbye" in Korean. There was a lot more kamsa himnida going on. Then we walked back to the hotel, calmly, even in the terrible humidity.
It is expected that you dress up for your visits, so I had dress slacks, dress shirt and tie... which of course makes me perfectly uncomfortable. We didn't even bring jeans, since that's a good way to earmark yourself as a wealthy foreigner (we saw jeans on sale for about $70 in a nearby chain-looking clothing store.) So I've been dressy for the entire trip.
Here's where we made a mistake: we passed out in the hotel from 4 to 7. Kind of blew our time zone acclimation in one evening nap. We woke up hungry, so we hit the town (after a stopover in the computer room) and found a Pizza Hut.
I know, it's so lame to visit another country and go to a despicable American commercialized food franchise. But there you are. Once I got my hellos and thank yous out of the way, we ordered by pointing. Yes, it was more expensive than a Pizza Hut back home. However, it was a billion times cleaner, the staff was a billion times nicer and attentive, and you don't tip in Korea. Then we walked up and down a bunch of trendy looking city streets until about 11:30pm. Felt completely safe.
Back in the hotel, we watched some Korean and Japanese television. The last thing I saw was a panel discussion on RoboTech, no lie. There seemed to be hosts (one of whom was very Comic Book Guyish) and several guests, maybe even the original creator of RoboTech, I don't know. Even before they showed some clips, I recognized the word "Macross" (the Japanese title for RoboTech), which made me feel pretty damn smart. Earlier we saw a Korean hidden camera prank show that was funny... we had no idea what they were saying, but you could still figure out the pranks via body language.
I've been up since about 4am, however. Beat Kirby Canvas Curse as dawn took the city. Showered early so I could jump on the computer while people in the US might be awake. It is roughly 7am local time, Thursday morning. IM access seems to be down at the moment. It was working fine last night - talked to my sister back in PA - which sort of left me marvelling at how cool and universal the internet has become. The last time we left the country, back in 1999, internet cafes were still a largely unknown and expensive thing. Today internet access is free and everywhere; this hotel even has free access in your room if you bring your laptop. We considered bringing the iBook along, but chickened out at the last minute. Sure do wish my phone worked here, though.
The touring day...|
Thursday / 06.30.05 / 05:05PM / Joe
It's 5:30am Friday local time... we've been up for hours already, thanks to another weird sleep pattern day.
After the last weblog entry, we met up with another couple and took a shuttle northward to Ilsan, where Holt Children's Services operates a live-in community for the disabled. Our tour guide was a Korean-American adoptee from Michigan who is volunteering at Ilsan Holt Town for six weeks. She took us around the property and told us about the work they do there to care for the 300 residents, all with varying degrees of mental illness and physical disability. This is also where the Holts themselves are buried, so we got to visit the gravesite of the American couple whose post-Korean War efforts to help the Ameriasian war orphans blossomed into the wonderful public service organization that has allowed Rhonda and I to form a family. When you're standing there, you can't help but imagine the ripple effects their lives have had. Amazing.
We were back in Seoul early afternoon, and Rhon and I did some more aimless city wandering. I finally found a video game store. Spotted a PlayStation logo on a corner and followed it down into an underground mall zone. The store was closed when we first arrived, maybe on a lunch break? So we did some circles and came back later. Outside the store was a vending machine with the most awesome little toys in it, including a set of WarioWare figurines. Of course, you have to have 500 Won coins to use it, and we had none. So back at the hotel I made change out of a 5000 Won paper and we're going to head back to the game store in a little bit. The toys you get around here in vending machines are well above anything you find in the States, finely detailed and well crafted. I'm buying plenty.
Almost picked up Nintendogs, the DS puppy simulator that isn't available in the US yet. I'm afraid the game will have too much Korean text for me to handle, so I grudgingly passed. Saw the Korean version of Katamari Damacy on the shelf.
We stopped in a CD store... that also sells a ton of cassettes, oddly enough. We were specifically looking for traditional Korean baby music, and we were able to converse enough with the clerk to find something. We're going to show it to the foster mom and see if she can tell us if there's anything on there Clark already may know and like.
Related sidebar: during our first meeting with Clark, we saw how the foster mom sung to him in Korean. So when we were alone with him and he grumbled a bit, we thought maybe we should sing too. But being as our minds were still stalled from the whole overwhelming experience, the only thing I could summon up to sing was the opening humming lyric from Katamari. Haw!
Around 4pm yesterday we stopped by an Outback Steakhouse for late lunch/early supper. Yes, yes, more American meat-related crap. Unfortunately, they were still serving off the lunch menu, which has zero vegetarian options. We ordered a bunch of sides (steamed veggies, steamed rice, french fries) and enjoyed that instead. They also gave us a serving of kimchi, which, dammit, I tried and liked. It was nowhere near as scary as I had expected.
The waitstaff out here has been all young folks, maybe students from one of the many nearby universities. They have all been helpful and understanding, and I always remain humble and gracious. Many of them have laughed a bit when they realize I have no idea what they're saying. At Outback, our server pulled out some all-English menus to help us out, and we managed to sign and nod our way through the usual end-of-meal questions. I'm assuming she asked us things like "any last soda refills?" "cash or charge?" etc. Just before we paid, she showed up with two doggy bags... we accepted them, but we had no idea what was inside. Did she package up the four fries and leftover kimchi for us? Did she ask us that and we agreed? Down the street we opened them up: pre-packaged bread loaves!
We stopped by a convenience store on the way back to the hotel, then passed out around 4:30pm. That explains why we've been awake since 1:30am today.
Today we have our final meeting at Holt, where they give Clark to us. That is at 3:30pm, so we're going to kill time with some shopping. Then an entire night in Korea with him, and an early bus out of Seoul Saturday morning.
The last day and the first day.|
Friday / 07.01.05 / 03:37PM / Joe
3:30am local time. I've been up since about 2:30, which is not bad, considering. We want to be at the bus stop around 7, and the hotel room is a disaster area, so this will give me plenty of time to pack up while Rhon and Clark sleep some more. After this weblog update, anyway.
Rewind. Being up so early yesterday morning, we figured we might as well hit the shops early. Rhonda had picked out a grocery store and a department store that she wanted to see. Planned to hit a coffee shop first, then stop by the gamestore for those Wario toys. On the streets by 7am.
Problem: nothing was open. Not even the Dunkin Donuts.
So that was disconcerting. From 7am to 8am, we saw barely anyone up and around. A few commuters, but nothing like the big city throngs you'd expect. After walking by a ton of dark storefronts, we headed to the underground mall that had the game store. We didn't think it would be open, but the Wario capsule machine was cleverly placed outside of the store in the hallway.
The mall area was wide open, but empty, except for a woman sweeping up and an elderly security guard. Lucky for us, the mall adjoins a subway station, so it wasn't too weird for us to be there. However, the game store is off to the side a ways... in the why-are-these-Americans- over-there-at-7:30am section. But we continued to play the stupid foreigner card and walked over anyway.
The thing to remember is that vending machines of any type make noise. A big clunking sound. So after buying a couple toys, the security guard was right behind us. But he quickly realized what we were doing and started talking jovially at us. The Wario figures required two 500 Won coins (about $1), and he was pointing to the Tinker Bell toys which needed six of them... sort of in a "Man, these things are expensive!" way. The Tinker Bell toys were really, really nice though.
End of story: Rhonda got a cute little cat figure. And as for the WarioWare toys, one Mona and THREE Jimmy T's. Crap!
So we walked to the department store, which we understood to be an upscale sort, like a Harrod's or Bloomingdale's. We got there by 8, not expecting it to be open. So we stood by the closed gate while a killer thunderstorm blew through town. Monsoon season. We think the sign on the door said 8:30, but who knows. At 8:40 we gave up and entered the nearby subway hold, which is probably something we should have done during the storm.
Underground, we found an open coffee shop and had a pair of iced mochaccinos and some big pretzel-looking things. The clerk understood our english, but I always forget about the Value Added Tax thing and get confused on the inevitable "take out? eat here?" question, so Rhon had to field that one. The store menu listed all the various capuccino varieties under the heading "CCINO" which actually makes sense if you think about it. Another shocker: they had a separate employee dedicated to serving us the ccinos when they were ready.
We figured the department store would be open by now (after 9am), and it was, sort of. An army of young hip female Seoulites was running into the underground store entrance. Running. And they were all getting some sort of free gift canned beverage on their way in. We were about to join in (free gift!) when we noticed each girl was quickly digging through her purse for a special card to show the doormen... so as near as we figure, the Hyundai Department Store was holding a crazy early bird, members-only sale. And you had to get there fast to get in on the bargains. So we skipped the store. And for a couple blocks down the street, we still saw girls hoofing it like mad to get there.
Back to the hotel. Still not much open, so we figured to wait an hour or so before attempting the grocery store at the other end of town. ("Town" being defined as the 20 block stretch we know well enough by now.) After 11am, we headed out there, largely to see their baby formula section, because Clark may prefer his native brand for a while.
The grocery store was very Western-styled, just smaller. So it wasn't the traditional open market type stuff you see on TV documentaries with fish vendors yelling at you and junk. That stuff is here, sure, just not within our roaming plan. Lots of American brands, but plenty of local stuff. The checkouts were what an American would expect, conveyor belt scanner and all that.
On the way back to the hotel, I took us on a totally different path because I wanted to see more of the sidestreets. Rhon was convinced I was getting us lost, but I knew geometrically how to get us back to the one big street that has the hotel and everything else. No worries.
We decided to go out after that department store again, this time taking the subway... even though it is only a single stop between our hotel and the store. Easy enough subway system, lots of english. Probably makes more sense to Americans who are already accustomed to dealing with subways, because we did become momentarily disoriented finding the pathways down to the platforms.
Yes, now the store is open. And what a pile of people inside! By now, the streets were more filled, and the store doubly so. I think it was 9 or 10 stories tall, with several underground floors. Looked more or less like a big US department store, but with most sections within a floor separated according to item and manned by at least two employees each. Seriously, every ten to fifteen feet was another pair of clerks bowing and nodding at us. Rhonda had one big search here, a traditional-style Korean baby carrier, the kind where the baby gets wrapped to your back. Eventually we found it, after looking at several non-traditional ones because the clerks assumed we wanted more Americanized versions. I think we embarrassed the young shopgirl because we asked her to show us how to wear it... she dutifully grabbed a nearby doll and had her sectionmate tie it on! So of course we bought one. Almost no English during this entire exchange, by the way.
We had also heard about these cute little kids shoes that have squeakers in the soles, so when the kids run around you get this pleasant little squeak-squeak sound from them. A little girl at the store was wearing them and it was adorable. Unfortunately, the store didn't seem to have any... and I'm pretty sure the baby shoe section clerks understood us because picked up the shoes and made little squeak noises to explain. They shook their heads no and smiled apologetically.
Back to the hotel. Now we're looking at about an hour to go before our meeting at Holt Children Services. We cleaned up, still very hot and humid out here. On the way there, we walked with our friends who are picking up their toddler girl this week; they had a meeting scheduled half an hour after ours.
The foster mom was already in with the doctor giving Clark his final exam. The nurse we knew from Wednesday was there, and all three seemed happy to see us. The doctor gave us some final instructions and then the foster mom and us went into another room to meet with the social worker and go over his departure papers. Rhonda took care of that while I played with Clark and talked (sort of) with his foster mom. She was really great the whole time, but it was clearly emotional for her as well. I shot a brief movie of her singing and talking to Clark, so we would never forget how she sounded with him. We exchanged gifts... more stuff from the US for her, lots of baby stuff for us, including his traditional first birthday formal wear (a Korean hanbok. Google that, they're beautiful!) We also got a photo album of his time with her family, which is more precious than gold to us. Holt gave us a front-loading baby carrier for the trip home, which everyone helped slip onto Rhonda and get Clark inside.
All too soon, we had to go. 25 minutes total. The goodbyes were tearful. We walked with the foster mom to her bus stop and said goodbye and thank you again, many times. Then we walked back to the hotel in unbelieving delirium. Three of us.
So now what.|
Monday / 07.04.05 / 01:09AM / Joe
At the hotel, we winged it. We had a pretty good idea of his feeding and eating schedule, thanks to the info from his foster mom. So we fed him for the first time, played with him for the first time, walked around the room bouncing him for the first time. Changed his diaper for the first time, during which he peed on the hotel bed. Even though we have been working for this for years, it still felt an awful lot like we were a couple of first-time babysitters.
After a couple hours, we appraised him worthy of a quick trip to the Seoul Pizza Hut. Hold your complaints, it's only two storefronts down from the hotel, in the same block. He was fine during the entire jaunt, sitting open-eyed in the carrier watching his countrymen zip about. The manager at the Pizza Hut did some cutesy baby stuff with him while we waited for the take out. Had the same clerk girl who was so nice to us on our first visit. I don't know if this is Korean standard service orientation or just how they treat the illiterate Americans, but the clerks at both Pizza Hut and Outback reviewed our order with us after we placed it. To get through the language barrier, the pacing was not unlike how you'd talk to a two year old. "Large? Pan? Cheese? No drink. Take out." It was a fun little interaction.
I think I said this already, but I really really liked being the foreign visitor. For me, the stress about a trip like this is entirely bound up in the travel... the damn plane flights, making hotel reservations, buses and taxis and subways. Once I'm there, I get all naive and carefree and have a really great time. Walking around in a little english bubble, staring at their signs and stores and cars, always watching for the tiny details that give each culture their zest. I'd hate to think of all the places I'd go if only I didn't have to travel there. (Not to mention that the vast expenditure of this trip was the flights, which is a crime considering how terrible they are, by definition. Not counting the flight, we spent about $500 in Seoul. That includes the hotel.)
After the Pizza Hut excursion, we attempted going to bed, but Clark was clearly not into it. He fought sleep for hours, but did eventually pass out on top of Rhon. Around 3am, he needed another diaper change, and after that Rhon was able to get him to sleep directly on the mattress. I didn't sleep much at all, partially because it was my side of the bed he peed on. So about this time, I got up, showered, and started packing up. The room was a mess, since Clark had occupied every action the night before, we just weren't able to start pre-packing like we normally would on the night before an early bus to a hellish plan ride home. I started with the easy stuff: my gear, and before too long it was 5 and I woke up Rhonda. We wanted to be at the bus stop around 7.
Of course Clark also woke up, so I held him while Rhon showered. Then she held him while instructing me how to pack up everything, because under no circumstances was Clark going to sit by himself on the bed. He must have recently seen a 20/20 piece on how dirty hotel rooms really are, one of those where they pull out the blue light. But we made it in great time, checked out of the hotel, and headed across the street to the bus station.
The bus was almost entirely full; our stop was one of the final city stops on the route out of Seoul and to Incheon Airport. So we had to sit separately. I must have looked pretty lost after Rhon and Clark were given a seat, because an elderly gentleman in the middle of the bus pointed to the open seat next to him. Kamsa hamnida, I said, and sat down.
While we checked in at the airline, all of a sudden there was a huge uproar not too far away. We looked around and saw what had to be 150 girls swarming over to one of the entryways. Turns out some kind of celebrity was being escorted through the airport by security! Naturally, we have no idea who and what he/she/it was... a Korean rock star? Actor? We saw autographs being signed and lots of girls walking away laughing and high on adrenaline. I quipped "What, are the Beatles in town?" to the Korean airline guy, but in retrospect, maybe Elvis would have been a better choice. He laughed, regardless. May not have been at me, though.
No such flock of young Korea awaited our departure, but the x-ray guards did require us to take off our shoes... and in a nice cultural bonus, they gave us temporary slippers to wear for the six steps it took to get through the machine. Seriously.
I'll make this quick: Clark hated the plane flights. More specifically, he hated having to sit still. So at any point with a FASTEN SEAT BELTS sign lit, Clark was screaming. Now, he had been fussy back in the hotel, but this was full throated violent red screaming. This being our first time seeing him that upset, it hurt us like hell too. No amount of Katamari humming was going to get him through this. The magic secret was: stand up. As soon as Rhon would stand up and walk around the cabin, he would quiet down and either sit semi-comfortably looking at everyone or just fall asleep.
So on the big jetstream-assisted flight from Tokyo to Detroit, we spent a lot of time walking. To make things even worse, somewhere over the Pacific we realized just how tired we were, and Clark's required field trips made sleeping impossible. I'll describe our flight through the onboard movies:
Pre-movie entertainment. An episode of Joey and some other junk. Rhonda walked Clark. I slept, sort of.
Movie #1. Hitch. Rhonda walked Clark. I slept. I think this movie contained the most amount of turbulence, which meant Clark did the most amount of screaming. At several points, Rhonda gave up on the SEAT BELTS sign and stood up with him anyway, which always drew dirty looks and sharp language form the bitch assigned to our section. Welcome back to American customer service.
Movie #2. Robots. For some reason, Clark let us all sit for the entire film. He and Rhonda slept. I watched the whole thing. It was lame, as expected. Why so many sub-characters? And the whole movie's point was to save Mel Brooks? I felt like the movie was loading sight gags into a howitzer and firing them directly into my face. Robin Williams was in it, and I hate him. Actually, what I really hate is how movie producers keep telling him to go off-script whenever they write themeselves into a boring bit, and then go on the press junket high-fiving and talking about what how much fun it was to work with him, and what a talented improv comic he is. Now, I may have been flight-deluded, but I don't think he did his John Wayne impression in this one. I'll assume it's in the DVD edition.
Movie #3. Disney's Ice Princess. Rhonda slept. I walked Clark. Although I saw most of the movie, I heard none of it since we were floating around the cabin. Nerdy girl gets into ice skating against Joan Cusack's wishes, gets all hot by the time the credits roll. Initially rivals with Ally McBeal's daughter but ends up as fast friends. Falls during her big number but does well anywayh. Reconciles with Joan and walks off into the sunset with her and Kim Catrall, who is out there hitting family friendly features trying to tone down her Sex and the City rep, which is ironic considering Sex was done to tone up her Wasn't She In Mannequin? rep.
I thought it was kinda weird that the flight backloaded the kids movies deep into the ride. Maybe their research shows that kids conk out early and start wanting entertainment after the five hour mark. That wasn't want I saw as we marched around the cabin; I saw lots of sleeping little girls who probably would have really enjoyed watching Disney's latest use of the word "princess."
Inbetween the second and third flights, we had to officially get Clark into the US on his visa, which is valid for six months or so. Bit of a line there, and another jarring example of that classic bored-and-annoyed attitude of the average American public servant. We just came from a culture where even the goddamn shoe store clerks bow at you... and now we can't even get a social nicety out of the immigration officials.
Also weird about Detroit: we had to pick up our baggage and check it again. Your homeland security at work, I suppose.
Clark slept through the last flight. Now that we were back in the USA, the time zone change shifted us back to an hour before our Tokyo flight took off. Our entire trans-Pacific voyage was neatly erased from Eastern Standard Time! But by now, I was approaching a full 24 hours awake with only a few unsettled naps to my credit. And Rhon not too far behind!
We both picked up additional energy when we met my folks and sister at the airport. And what a homecoming! We had gifts waiting for us, the cats were happy to have us home, we had pictures and souvenirs to share... and of course the newest little Fourhman. Things soured after my family left home, though, as Clark had another rough night. We had to hold and walk him until 5am. Rhon and I could barely handle it, even in shifts... we were both dead tired after the trip. This morning I noticed several of my footprints still ground into the carpet from where I had been walking him in place. Only after sunrise could Rhon slip him onto a quilt on the floor of the living room for some true sleep. (Yes, the floor, which is where he would have slept in Korea.) We slept right beside him. Even with that awful plane flight screwing things up, Clark was still more or less on Korean time, plus you have to consider the whole new upside down world he was just forced into... new smells, new things, new people. I don't blame him at all. These first few days are going to be all about his schedule, and we'll slowly transition him to a more typical US-timed pattern.
We all got up around 3 in the afternoon, although Rhon tells me there was some bottle feedings and phone calls in there. We took him outside for a bit, gave him the big daylight tour of the place. He's still uneasy and wants to be held almost all the time. But we did get him to sit in a rocking baby chair, which he likes. In fact, he's sleeping in it right now. He's probably taking this as a long afternoon nap, Korean time. When he wakes, we'll feed him and hope we can get him into a flat sleep. On the floor, if that's what he wants.
Finally, the pictures.|
Tuesday / 07.05.05 / 01:25AM / Joe
OK, this is in the gift shop of the ANA Narita Hotel in Tokyo. This is precisely how I've always imagined Japan.
POCARI SWEAT! Naturally I had to try Japan's popular ION ENERGY DRINK. It tastes a lot like really weak lemon-lime gatorade.
This is our early morning flight from Tokyo to Seoul. Note the wife playing on our DS. After this shot, all the pics are from Korea.
This is the doctor, foster mom and nurse taking Clark through his pre-flight physical at our Wednesday meeting. (L-R): Doctor, Clark, Foster Mom, Nurse
I took this cool shot of a sidestreet as we walked down the sidewalk from the agency to the hotel... after a couple blocks I realized that every sidestreet in Seoul looks like this.
"Hey, you save the coupons?" "Sure, how do you think I got this sweet POCARI SWEAT outdoor lounge set?"
I don't intend to poke fun at Korean culture at all here, but there are some great examples of mangled and re-appropriated English to be found. I can't blame them; English is a mess. This You Are Here map shows the "Street of Try to Walk," which I can't imagine is an intentional name. Other clever uses of English: "Tostore," a store that sells toast, and "Sand Presso," offering sandwiches and espresso.
This was on 24 hours a day, several different players discussing Go strategy. I have to respect that. In other Korean TV news, one night I watched this great action film that had all kinds of amazing live-action Dragon Ball Z-type attacks in it. I'd love to own a dubbed/subtitled version of it, but of course I have no idea what it was called. There was a princess who had two suitors, one the rogue hero and one the goody-goody hero. She accidentally dies during one of their epic clashes when her mean father tries to take down the rogue and hits her instead. Later on, the dad breaks the rogue's arm with a force bubble attack, so he rips off the entire thing right out of the shoulder socket and unleashes some kind of wild blood attack to escape. He ends up taking some farmer's arm to replace his! Then the goody-goody finds a big sword and totally does an InuYasha windscar attack. At the end, the two heroes take down the dad. Awesome.
Tourist brochure rack in the hotel lobby. Check out how many of them offer up guided tours to the DMZ! Crazy!
A hallway covered with video game posters leading down to the game store.
The vending machine where I got Jimmied. the pic centers on the Tinker Bell toys we didn't buy, so you can see how cool they are. I do kinda worry about the one where she's stuck in a keyhole though.
PC Clubs are everywhere, presumably this is where the PC gaming youth of Seoul go to forget to eat for a couple days. This was must be pretty old school... giant posters of Starcraft.
This sort of thing fascinates me: a normal everyday cereal aisle at the grocery store (Hapjeung Mart, if you're interested.) There's some familiar Western faces there, but some happy local mascots as well.
The end of the second and final meeting RE: Clark. That's the foster mom on the left and the new mom on the right.
This is me, Clark and Pikachu back in the hotel room.
And this is Rhonda and Clark checking out downtown. We were in room 809 and we just remembered we left a Poong Poongie kids drink bottle in the hotel room fridge.
This is what most of the Tokyo-Detroit flight looked like, one of us walking in circles over by one of the emergency exits.
More pictures are found in our complete photo album of the trip, which also has a convenient slideshow doohickey.
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